Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Did you notice the recent anti-IPCC article?

You may have missed the latest attack on the IPCC, because the mitigation sceptics did not celebrated it. Normally they like to claim that the job of scientists is to write IPCC friendly articles. Maybe because that is the world they know, that is how their think tanks function, that is what they would be willing to do for their political movement. The claim is naturally wrong and it illustrates that they are either willing to lie for their movement or do not have a clue how science works.

It is the job of a scientist to understand the world better and thus to change the way we currently see the world. It is the fun of being a scientist to challenge old ideas.

The case in point last week was naturally the new NOAA assessment of the global mean temperature trend (Karl et al., 2015). The new assessment only produced minimal changes, but NOAA made that interesting by claiming the IPCC was wrong about the "hiatus". The abstract boldly states:
Here we present an updated global surface temperature analysis that reveals that global trends are higher than reported by the IPCC ...
The introduction starts:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report concluded that the global surface temperature “has shown a much smaller increasing linear trend over the past 15 years [1998-2012] than over the past 30 to 60 years.” ... We address all three of these [changes in the observation methods], none of which were included in our previous analysis used in the IPCC report.
Later Karl et al. write, that they are better than the IPCC:
These analyses have surmised that incomplete Arctic coverage also affects the trends from our analysis as reported by IPCC. We address this issue as well.
To stress the controversy they explicitly use the IPCC periods:
Our analysis also suggests that short- and long-term warming rates are far more similar than previously estimated in IPCC. The difference between the trends in two periods used in IPCC (1998-2012 and 1951-2012) is an illustrative metric: the trends for these two periods in the new analysis differ by 0.043°C/dec compared to 0.078°C/dec in the old analysis reported by IPCC.
The final punchline goes:
Indeed, based on our new analysis, the IPCC’s statement of two years ago – that the global surface temperature “has shown a much smaller increasing linear trend over the past 15 years than over the past 30 to 60 years” – is no longer valid.
And they make the IPCC periods visually stand out in their main figure.

Figure from Karl et al. (2015) showing the trend difference for the old and new assessment over a number of periods, the IPCC periods and their own. The circles are the old dataset, the squares the new one and the triangles depict the new data with interpolation of the Arctic datagap.

This is a clear example of scientists attacking the orthodoxy because it is done so blatantly. Normally scientific articles do this more subtly, which has the disadvantage that the public does not notice it happening. Normally scientists would mention the old work casually, often the expect their colleagues to know which specific studies are (partially) criticized. Maybe NOAA found it easier to use this language this time because they did not write about a specific colleague, but about a group and a strong group.

Figure SPM.1. (a) Observed global mean combined land and ocean surface temperature anomalies, from 1850 to 2012 from three data sets. Top panel: annual mean values. Bottom panel: decadal mean values including the estimate of uncertainty for one dataset (black). Anomalies are relative to the mean of 1961−1990. (b) Map of the observed surface temperature change from 1901 to 2012 derived from temperature trends determined by linear regression from one dataset (orange line in panel a).
The attack is also somewhat unfair. The IPCC clearly stated that it not a good idea to focus on such short periods:
In addition to robust multi-decadal warming, global mean surface temperature exhibits substantial decadal and interannual variability (see Figure SPM.1). Due to natural variability, trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends. As one example, the rate of warming over the past 15 years (1998–2012; 0.05 [–0.05 to 0.15] °C per decade), which begins with a strong El Niño, is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951 (1951–2012; 0.12 [0.08 to 0.14] °C per decade)
What the IPCC missed in this case is that the problem goes beyond natural variability, that another problem is whether the data quality is high enough to talk about such subtle variations.

The mitigation sceptics may have missed that NOAA attacked the IPCC consensus because the article also attacked the one thing they somehow hold dear: the "hiatus".

I must admit that I originally thought that the emphasis the mitigation sceptics put on the "hiatus" was because they mainly value annoying "greenies" and what better way to do so than to give your most ridiculous argument. Ignore the temperature rise over the last century, start your "hiatus" in a hot super El Nino year and stupidly claim that global warming has stopped.

But they really cling to it, they already wrote well over a dozen NOAA protest posts at WUWT, an important blog of the mitigation sceptical movement. The Daily Kos even wrote: "climate denier heads exploded all over the internet."

This "hiatus" fad provided Karl et al. (2015) the public interest — or interdisciplinary relevance as these journals call that — and made it a Science paper. Without the weird climate "debate", it would have been an article for a good climate journal. Without challenging the orthodoxy, it would have been an article for a simple data journal.

Let me close this post with a video of Richard Alley explaining even more enthusiastic than usually
what drives (climate) scientists? Hint: it ain't parroting the IPCC. (Even if their reports are very helpful.)
Suppose Einstein had stood up and said, I have worked very hard and I have discovered that Newton is right and I have nothing to add. Would anyone ever know who Einstein was?

Further reading

My draft was already written before I noticed that at Real Climate Stefan Rahmstorf had written: Debate in the noise.

My previous post on the NOAA assessment asked the question whether the data is good enough to see something like a "hiatus" and stressed the need to climate data sharing and building up a global reference network. It was frivolously called: No! Ah! Part II. The return of the uncertainty monster.

Zeke Hausfather: Whither the pause? NOAA reports no recent slowdown in warming. This post provides a comprehensive, well-readable (I think) overview of the NOAA article.

How climatology treats sceptics. My experience fits to what you would expect.


IPCC, 2013: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1535 pp, doi: 10.1017/CBO9781107415324.

Thomas R. Karl, Anthony Arguez, Boyin Huang, Jay H. Lawrimore, James R. McMahon, Matthew J. Menne, Thomas C. Peterson, Russell S. Vose, Huai-Min Zhang, 2015: Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus. Science. doi: 10.1126/science.aaa5632.

Boyin Huang, Viva F. Banzon, Eric Freeman, Jay Lawrimore, Wei Liu, Thomas C. Peterson, Thomas M. Smith, Peter W. Thorne, Scott D. Woodruff, and Huai-Min Zhang, 2015: Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperature Version 4 (ERSST.v4). Part I: Upgrades and Intercomparisons. Journal Climate, 28, pp. 911–930, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00006.1.

Rennie, Jared, Jay Lawrimore, Byron Gleason, Peter Thorne, Colin Morice, Matthew Menne, Claude Williams, Waldenio Gambi de Almeida, John Christy, Meaghan Flannery, Masahito Ishihara, Kenji Kamiguchi, Abert Klein Tank, Albert Mhanda, David Lister, Vyacheslav Razuvaev, Madeleine Renom, Matilde Rusticucci, Jeremy Tandy, Steven Worley, Victor Venema, William Angel, Manola Brunet, Bob Dattore, Howard Diamond, Matthew Lazzara, Frank Le Blancq, Juerg Luterbacher, Hermann Maechel, Jayashree Revadekar, Russell Vose, Xungang Yin, 2014: The International Surface Temperature Initiative global land surface databank: monthly temperature data version 1 release description and methods. Geoscience Data Journal, 1, pp. 75–102, doi: 10.1002/gdj3.8.

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